Location: Gliwice, Poland
Camp Commandants: SS-Oberscharführer Bernhard Becker, SS-Oberscharführer Konrad Friedrichsen, SS-Hauptscharführer Bernhard Rackers
On May 3rd 1944, the Deutsche Gasrusswerke factory, which had employed slave workers in Gleiwitz for about 3 years, was administratively re-organised and became directly subordinate to Auschwitz III Monowitz. The Deutsche Gasrusswerke producing coal tar had subsidised 2 separate labour camps to house workers in around 1940, one camp for Poles and foreign nationals (Fremdarbeiter) and a separate one for Jews (Judenlager). The camp overseers generally treated the Jews much worse than the foreign workers and also provided smaller rations.
By early 1943, there were around 600 Jews in the labour camp. This included 200 women who had been reassigned there from similar work in the factories of the Sosnowiec Ghetto. These women were working at the factory when the SS placed the camp into the administration of Auschwitz-Monowitz. They were registered as prisoners of Auschwitz and were issued a prison number and tattooed on their arm, although they would never actually visit the main camps in Oświęcim.
The transfer of administration caused a lot of upheaval and uncertainty amongst the Jewish population. Living conditions and food rations had been tough for the prisoners up until May 1944, but both were about to get much worse. The rations were bought in line with other sub-camps which meant the quality of food deteriorated practically over night. The levels of violence also got much worse. 3 other sub-camps were being established in Gleiwitz around the same time, and this bought a more brutal culture.
The Deutsche Gasrusswerke factory became known as Gleiwitz II and was in close proximity to the Wagenwerk of camp 1. The personal also changed in May of 1944 as SS Oberscharführer Bernhard Becker became Commandant who then appointed SS Unterscharführer Lukaszek as his deputy. Becker remained Commandant until September 15th when SS-Oberscharführer Konrad Friedrichsen arrived from the Neu-Dachs camp to replace him. Becker was later sentenced to 12 years imprisonment in the Auschwitz-Kraków trials of 1948.
Under Becker’s command, 70 SS men from the 6th Guard at Monowitz were appointed to the Gleiwitz II camp to protect the factory grounds and the sub-camp area. The factory operated 24 hours a day and the guards worked in 3 shifts, rotating when the prisoners changed. When Friedrichsen took over, he encouraged his men to act without mercy against the prisoners if they were found to be sleeping, or talking with the civilian workers. Friedrichsen was also sent to 12 years imprisonment at the Auschwitz trials.
The SS aimed to substantially increase the prisoner population over the coming months, and began almost instantly with approximately 100 Hungarian women selected at Birkenau sent by truck to the sub-camp. By the end of the tear, the population of the women at Gleiwitz II was 371. In comparison, the men’s camp rose from 261 in May 1944 to 740 by the January of 1945. The men were mostly responsible for expanding the factory grounds, fixing machinery in the coal tar factory and demolishing buildings. They also organised construction materials in the nearby Borsig Koks-Werke factory grounds.
The women were working in some of the most terrible conditions in the sub-camp system with machinery that rose to over 70°C. The hot conditions and lack of air due to regulations prohibiting lights in industrial areas at night was not helped by the heavy clothing they were forced to wear whilst operating machinery. Every day, several of the women suffered skin burns and toxic inhalation from the fumes created whilst producing carbon black.
The women worked in all areas of the process, from machine operatives to arranging distribution and packaging for dispatch. No provisions were made to protect the carbon black from coating the women during this work. The deterioration of the treatment towards the women led to an underground movement rising in the camp. The underground established relationships with civilian workers with influence to try and improve the working days of the women.
In many cases, this was too late for those who had already committed suicide by throwing themselves out of the factory upper windows or through other means. Doctor Schenck, who was the engineering director at the factory helped relieve the plight of the women prisoners whenever possible. He was sympathetic towards the brutal treatment and impossible conditions they had to work in.
On January 18th 1945, the male and female prisoners prepared to evacuate the camp due to the proximity of the Red Army. Confusion was rife, especially as other sub-camps were sending thousands of prisoners to Gleiwitz. The confusion allowed several prisoners to hide in the camp and escape from the columns that were leaving the town. The marched prisoners circled the town over a 3-day period before train cars arrived to take them into Germany.
The train cars were packed solid, and no means were arranged for the prisoners to relieve themselves. On the journey, civilians managed to pass food and water to the prisoners despite the threat of death if caught. A nurse from the sub-camp, Stanisława Muller, was shot whilst trying to receive food from the civilians.
The journey took approximately 10 days before reaching north Berlin. The men were sent on foot from Oranienburg train station to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and the women were marched to Ravensbrück a little further away.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.